SHROVE Tuesday’s Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide luncheon was all about Stuart Lees. The retired firefighter who has spent years keeping Ashbourne safe has seen his hard work repaid with one of the town’s highest honours, turning up a ball.
Introducing Mr Lees at Ashbourne Leisure Centre, Ashbourne’s Mayor Steve Bull described his connection to the Ashbourne area, and the fact that Mr Lees was born and raised in Parwich, his long-standing committment to Shrovetide as a player and the ways in which he has served the town.
Mr Lees, he said, was a passionate gardener and a regular at flower shows. His efforts in erecting the town’s bunting were acknowledged, as he was one of the people credited with starting the tradition that has now grown to the point where eight miles of bunting can be seen adorning the town.
His fund-raising efforts, along with his friend Bob Dyer, were also mentioned as Mr Lees and Mr Dyer have raised thousands of pounds for the game over the years through projects including making ceramic Shrovetide balls and, this year, commemorative Shrovetide mugs.
Battling with his emotions, Mr Bull proudly told Mr Lees: “I’m proud to be introducing you on your very special day.
“You deserve it so much because of what you have done throughout the town and for Shrovetide.
“Enjoy it mate, it is the best feeling and in 15 minutes time you’ll know the feeling.”
During his speech, Mr Lees told how he had to keep quiet about his invitation to turn the ball up back in December 2013, ahead of the News Telegraph’s official exclusive announcement which took place this year on New Year’s Day.
When his wife Angela read the paper, he explained, and saw that we had quoted him as saying it was one of the best feelings of his life, she ventured the question: “So what about meeting me?”
It got him in quite a bit of ‘strife’, he explained, but he added that, when a turner-up is given this honour that everything goes out of their mind and that, in a few hours, his family was just as excited as he was.
He talked people through his education and career, ending up as a self employed partner of Walker and Lees alongside his colleague Andrew Walker.
He talked about his joining of the fire service, and the people that were fundamental in this.
Among the anecdotes in his speech he told the hundreds of people sat in the main hall of the time he and his colleagues from Ashbourne’s retained fire service got a ‘shout’ on their fire service pagers during the match.
The crew ran towards the station and, when they arrived, realised they had been followed by a crowd of spectators who assumed the group had broken with the Shrovetide ball.
He said: “I’d like to thank all the guests that are here today and the dedicated team who have made this possible, the dedicated followers of the game.
“Without you, these special two days would not be possible.”
Before Mr Lees spoke Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Committee chairman Brell Ewart spoke to the audience, who had finished their three course meal, and explained the significance of the game as it was played 100 years ago as the country prepares to commemorate a century since the outbreak of World War One.